My first reaction to Daniel’s announcement was a visualization of Daniel in the high pressure environment of a commercial kitchen. The barking orders, the time constraints, the need to get the dishes right, hot and presented on time seemed to be a perfect match for Daniel. Well, for Daniel’s weaknesses that is. Daniel doesn’t handle pressure well. He doesn’t respond positively to blunt, curt orders. He doesn’t communicate in short clear cut phrases. When pushed to increase his speed, he breaks down completely.
Then Daniel launched into an explanation of all the things that, in his mind, made up a chef’s responsibilities. Somehow, making food wasn’t among any of them. Instead, making the kitchen health-code compliant and designing the building of the restaurant was at the heart of his description.
I am glad I have learned to wait and listen. I didn’t always do so. There would have been a time when I would have immediately, reactively crushed his aspirations with an explanation of how poorly matched he would be to that career. Waiting allows me to better understand where his true interest lie.
So, how do I guide my child toward career success as an adult? Do I encourage dreams of careers that I know are going to poorly match his skills set? Or am I forced to crush his aspirations? There has to be another option.
I think this question is valid with any child, it is just more sharply defined when I consider Daniel. Regardless of what careers interest Daniel has today or will have in the future, the harsh reality for many special needs adults is a difficult and treacherous employment landscape. Even for the high functioning on the spectrum, unemployment is above the national average.
At this point, the choice of career is not pressing. However, I think with all our kids, the emphasis should not be “what do you want to be.” It is fun to day-dream about being a doctor, a lawyer, an Indian chief but when we dream like that, we project ourselves into the lives of a person we have seen in that career. We tend to only see the things we like, the money, the prestige, the lifestyle, etc. We do not look objectively at the skills required for the job. Instead the question should be, what skill do you enjoy using? Now, how can you sharpen and hone that skill and use it to provide a life that fits your dreams?
Instead of being the crushing voice of reason, or the enabling teller of fairy-tales, I can be the mom, learning to observe the strengths and skills of my child. I can point out the skills involved in enjoyable pastimes. Most importantly – like all parenting, this isn’t a one-time discussion but rather an ongoing conversation.